Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Demons and Robin Williams

One look in his eyes and the suffering was there for all the world to see.  Despite being one of the world’s premiere funny men, Robin Williams was tortured by demons many of us, myself included, have battled.  Shocked is a good way to describe much of the reaction to his death.  Shock first of all that he’s dead, but that shock is compounded by the manner in which he died.  And as the details are revealed, the mourning deepens.

How can one be so funny while (my own term) dangling over the Jaws of Hell?  And not dangling just out of the reach of demons, but dangling and having flesh shredded by those demons?  Look at video of Williams performing.  The humor is there.  The genius is evident.  But look at his eyes.  Really look.  Do they look happy?  Does the smile reach them?  Generally, no.  His well-documented struggle with alcoholism was a dual-edged sword.  It was an attempt self-medicate the demons into submission but since alcohol is itself a depressant, it just made matters worse.  While drunk, though, at least the demons can be ignored.  Their collective voices, the taunting, the jeers, can be ignored.

Humor is frequently used as a mask.  Think of Chris Farley and his own brand of fat jokes, making funny at his own expense.  Make people laugh “at” him while making them believe they’re laughing “with” him.  Does that make sense?  Beat them to the punch.  No doubt he honed this humor while growing up.  The weight was the gorilla in the middle of the room.  Bring it up first, make people laugh, put them at ease about it, and gain acceptance.  Otherwise, become the butt of jokes and ostracized.  Everyone likes to hang out with the funny guy.  Forget that each joke carves another wound.  The wounds are invisible.

Williams’ humor wasn’t directed at himself, but might be considered a wall.  I know people who suffer from profound depression yet are extremely funny.  I recently read a great article (sorry I can’t cite it as I can’t find it now) that describes the process very well. Depression and the resulting pain (both emotional and physical) are uncomfortable for others to be around.  What does one say?  How does one react?  How does one treat and talk to someone suffering from deep depression…or even mild depression?  Easier to ignore it.  So, create a mask.  People like those who are funny.  Most of us like to laugh and someone who can make us laugh on a regular basis is a treasure. 

But if that mask is dropped, what then?  If the emotional despair is allowed to peek out, discomfort sets in in those around the demon-haunted.  “Wait.  This person is funny.  How come he/she seems so down?  And how am I supposed to act?”  The situation is uncomfortable and the humor is pulled back out of the hat to dispel the discomfort.  A sigh goes up among the “friends”.  (Insert name here) is back to normal!  Let the good times continue. Do they see the pain in the eyes?  Do they realize or even care that the humor hides a damaged soul? 

I’m not going to write about what should or should not be said to someone who lets down his/her guard and drops the mask, even temporarily.  You have to decide for yourself how comfortable you are with hearing the unvarnished truth.  You see, the problem isn’t when someone is being serious.  It’s when the chronically depressed is being funny.  That’s when he/she feels there’s no option, no one around who can take the truth. 

No.  I’m not going to write about that.  The situation is as individual as, well, an individual.  Instead, this is about the demons faced by Williams, myself, and others like us. You see, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, the demons steal.  They lie.  They steal joy, family time, appreciating the waves breaking on shore and a beautiful sunset.  They steal enjoying a rare family gathering as children grow up and go their separate ways in life.  They steal enjoying a quiet moment with a spouse.  They steal hope.  They steal peace and comfort.  They also lie.  They say there’s no chance of anything becoming better.  They tell you it’s hopeless, nothing will change.  They speak unmentionable things to the depressed.  Mainly, they say the only way out of the pain is to just check out of life.

Oh, I could go on and on about the demons.  And that’s why Williams’ suicide has affected me so much.  Unlike many of us, he had everything, including the means to obtain the best medical care money can buy, yet he could not run away from his demons.  Those demons.  I know them.  I’ve battled them.  Right now my arsenal is keeping them at bay.  They’ve helped me win the battle, and hopefully they’ll help me win the war.  Williams lost his war.  It’s the knowledge of what he was facing, how far down in the hole he was, how hopeless it all seemed that hurts me.  I would hurt just as much for anyone in such a position, it’s just that Williams is a public figure with a very public death.  But knowing what he faced, how utterly alone he felt, how hopeless the situation appeared to be, that’s what’s affected me.  I’ve been there.  And I sincerely hope and pray I’m never there again.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Friendship/Dedicated to Bill Bream

                Dedicated to Bill Bream
 A dear friend passed away a few days ago.  Interestingly, I had never met this gentleman in person.  He was a client of our business and in the course of communicating we developed a close relationship.   No, I’m not talking about an online romance by any stretch of the imagination.  Just a close friendship.  I told him about my depression and my husband’s ongoing battle with nearly crippling neuropathy.  He was a photographer and sent me gorgeous shots of Yosemite, flowers in his garden, birds…I believe many of his photos were featured in various publications. 

He was a gentleman but with a bawdy sense of humor.  He apologized for the first off-color joke he sent to me, saying he was out of line and hoped I wasn’t.  I responded with a huge “LOL” and a note that explained I have five sons, no daughters.  My sense of humor has been warped by them.  The joke was incredibly funny and not so off color as to offend.  And so back and forth it went.  Not every day, but a few times a week I would find something in my e-mail’s inbox from him.  A joke, information to pass along to John about the situation with various crops in the central valley of California (we provide ag-specific weather reports to farmers and agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley, a place where much of the food you eat is grown and produced), rainfall amounts at his location during the few times it rains, wind speed when it’s actually a bit windy…lots of information that we deemed invaluable…and political information.  Congress is in the process of appropriating water that was granted to farmers decades ago.  Congress has already done this to farmers on the west side of the valley, a region that is now not much more than a dust bowl.  Millions-perhaps billions- of dollars in farmland now lies fallow. 

Anyway, this client became an invaluable source of information while becoming a beloved friend.  He shared his pride in his wife.  On Facebook, he would post pictures of projects his wife had completed.  She’s an amazingly creative woman.  You name it, she can do it.  Quilting, stamping, gardening, sewing…I don’t think there’s anything she can’t do.  Pictures were posted of a tea party setting she created in their garden.  I wish I could have attended.  It was a true garden party, a shabby chic setting requiring the finest in dresses and beautiful sun hats or parasols.  I’m sure the food was amazing.  This couple grows oranges and I would bet oranges played a role in the delicacies whipped up by this amazing woman.  Our friend’s pride in her made him even more special to me.  He wasn’t afraid to share his love of this incredible woman. 

On the other end of the scale, his wife wasn’t afraid…and likely still is not afraid… to share her love of this man.  She would post pictures of projects he took on for her.  Building a garden house in just her style, gardening with her, and many other types of creations designed to please her.  She quite obviously cherishes his work as they are physical testimonies of his love for her.  I can understand this clearly as my husband also cherishes me and loves me deeply.  I recognized in my friend’s words, pictures, and communication his love for his wife.  Oh, I’m sure they had their problems from time to time, but love won out over disagreements. 

So, no, our friendship was not an online romance, just a close friendship based on common interests.  And jokes.  I looked forward to opening my email in the morning to see what he had sent.  It always generated a laugh from both me and from hubby, something that was occasionally hard to do because of our illnesses.  This man knew that and I truly believe he deliberately set out to gain at least a chuckle from us, or a groan from a bad pun.  And he had a million of them.  I’m sure his family benefited from his sense of humor.  I knew we did.

Maybe it’s difficult to understand why I grieve so at the passing of this man.  We had never shaken hands, had a friendly hug of greeting, shared a meal, or just kicked back in that gorgeous garden and chatted.  Never looked eye to eye while telling a story.  Yet, I grieve at his passing.  The morning of the day he died he sent an email with the rain total at his location.  I remember clearly that it was .36 (that’s a gullywasher by Tulare County standards) and that it was in red print.  Just that morning he was alive and, to my knowledge, well.  Then he was gone. 

Friendships don’t require seeing one another face to face.  This gentleman is not the only friend I have who I’ve never actually met.  I have a bunch of Facebook friends and blog friends I’ve never met, yet I treasure their friendship, too.  I know some of them would be there in a heartbeat if I needed something.  I believe they know I’ve got their back, too.  Then there are the friends made over the years with whom I’ve been able to reconnect courtesy of Facebook.  They’re scattered far and wide, and we don’t communicate every day, but I know they think about me just as I think about them.  I pray for them and know they do for me.  They cheer me on, cheer me up, and cheer for me when something goes well.  They have words of support and love when something has gone wrong in my life.  I cherish their friendships, as well.

But I will say this one gentleman holds a special place in my heart.  I can’t explain it.  Something about his spirit touched mine.  He’s been on my mind a great deal since his passing.  A few days ago I said yet another little prayer for him, and for myself.  I heard something at the window and looked up.  A finch of a type I’ve never seen before sat on the window ledge looking directly at me.  We stared at one another for quite a bit…a good two or three minutes…and I smiled.  This little bird flew off.  I don’t believe in coincidence.  And I do know of Bill’s love of the natural world.  Was this a message to me, to not worry or grieve, that he truly has wings with which to fly?  I’m certain of it.  Friendships can flourish across miles.  And death doesn’t mean the end, just a change as we communicate spirit to spirit.  My dad still sends me baseballs.  Oh, I don’t expect my friend to show up at my window all the time, or even any more at all.  It’s enough for me that I believe he did once, once to show that he treasured our friendship, too.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I Want a New Drug

Remember that song by Huey Lewis and the News from back in the 80s?  C’mon, sing along with me: “I want a new drug, one that won’t go away.  One that won’t keep me up all night, one that won’t make me sleep all day.”  There ya go!  You did it!

After discovering that I have bipolar disorder…and trying the myriad of drugs out there to combat this crap…that song…and those lyrics, in particular…took on a whole new meaning.  How many of you battling brain cooties found success with the first weapon your doctor prescribed?  Don’t be shy.  Raise your hands.  HA!  That’s what I thought.  Not very many.  So, those of you who did have success on the first go ‘round, how many have stayed on the same drug for an extended period of time with continued success?  Yeah, I thought that would cause a few hands to go down.

Well, let me tell ya somethin’.  My brain LOVES new drugs.  Absolutely adores them.  I feel the party goin’ on in my head, let me tell you.  But it doesn’t usually last long.  My brain, it appears, gets bored.  Tosses aside the serotonin like an old shoe into the reuptake cycle.  It wants something new, something shiny, something pretty. 

Now, as much as I love my doc, I do have to say he looks at me a bit strangely when I tell him my brain is bored with a drug.  All right.  I’ll be honest.  With my current doctor I’ve only said this one time and that was a week and a half ago.  I’d been battling the blahs for months.  I wasn’t horribly depressed (most of the time) but I also just didn’t feel good.  No energy, motivation, drive.  I looked forward to sleeping. I was even ready to toss out my hard-acquired crafting materials.  Yeah, that bad. 

So, I made an appointment with my doctor.  Let me back up.  I already had this appointment.  Sorry.  Wrong appointment.  Saw my therapist first (she’s a doll and very good at what she does) then my doc.  He always goes over the therapist’s notes so he can compare what I tell him with what I told my therapist for any additional clarification.  After discussing my lack of oomph, my doc and I decided it was time for a change.

But it couldn’t be just any change.  You see, I’ve taken soooo many meds for my brain cooties…used so many weapons against it…and most of them failed.  Oh, they might have worked for a bit, but like I said at the opening, my brain just gets bored and wants a new drug, one that won’t keep it up all night or make it sleep all day, and sleeping all day seems to be my biggest issue with psych meds.  I mean, come on, I have bipolar disorder.  Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, etc. should send me into manic mode.  Instead, I have what the good doctor calls “atypical reactions”, meaning they put me to sleep. And even if I don’t sleep, I feel drugged with no more energy than it takes to hold down one end of the couch.  I see you nodding, you know that feeling, don’t you?  That’s what many meds do to me. “…one that won’t keep me up all night, one that won’t make me sleep all day.”  Yeppers, Huey Lewis knew.

My doctor was honest with me.  I’ve only been on one medication…besides mood stabilizers…since seeing him and, lucky me! I was the first in his practice to be prescribed that medication.  However, the reason it was prescribed is that I’ve gone through many, many other medications that just didn’t work, or did but for some reason stopped working.  He explained that there just weren’t too many options left out there, but did mention one that’s only been on the market for about a year.  No, not the one that’s advertised all over the place…the one that’s specifically for bipolar depression.  I was actually kinda hoping he’d prescribe that one ‘cause the people in the ads look so happy!  And skinny!  And I wanted all that!  But he mentioned another one I’d never heard of before and I agreed to give it a shot.

Took my samples home and started at the recommended dose.  Now, what’s cool about the newer generation of drugs is that they don’t take 4-6 weeks to see results.  In fact, doc chuckled when I asked about it and said no, it activates pretty quickly.  Boy, was he right!  I could feel it swooshing into my brain and my brain saying, “Ahhhhh!!  Now THAT’s better!” (Does your brain talk to you, too, or is it just me?)

As directed, I titrated up one week later.  Gotta back up a bit again.  During the previous week I’d noticed a little itching, but nothing too bad or distracting.  No rash.  But after a couple of days I wondered if it was due to the medication.  Nothing bad, mind you, and only mildly annoying.  Okay, so, I titrated up.  And scratched the ankle on one foot until it bled.  Those of you in the Midwest, you know what chigger bites are like.  Horrible things.  Much, much worse than mosquito bites.  Well, it felt like two or three chigger bites in one place. 

Went from itching a bit to being driven crazy!  Mostly my feet, but my eyes, my head, my stomach.  It was awful.  I called the doctor and spoke with his nurse.  When she heard what was going on she managed to get an appointment for me the next day.  Yeah, allergic reactions to medications will do that for a person.  The velvet rope just drops on down. 

I told him I felt great, except for the itching.  I’d even lost 2 pounds since my previous appointment just a week earlier.  That made me feel even better!   

I really like the way my doc makes me part of my medical team, which is the way it should be.  Since I was feeling good otherwise, he suggested we…or I, actually…stay at the lower dose.  Then he prescribed another medication called hydroxyzine.  Now, I don’t like mentioning meds by name because I don’t want to influence anyone, but this is an all purpose medication.  It’s mainly used as an antihistamine.  Apparently it was developed in the mid-1950s for that reason.  But, hurray for me, in its list of other uses is one that jumped out at me.  JUMP!  Like that.  It’s also used as an antianxiety medication.  This is beautiful because the last med I was on was for depression as well as anxiety and I was getting anxious about what I was going to do about the anxiety.  Ironically, one of the potential side effects is upset stomach, but it can be prescribed for nausea.  I love little ironies like that, don’t you?

I was worried it would put me to sleep, but it doesn’t.  At least not at the dose I’m at.  I wonder if it should be increased, though, ‘cause I start itching again overnight and also if I wait too long during the day to take it.  Just looked it up and I’m well under the potential dosage.  In fact, for anxiety I’m at half the usual dose, which is fine.  I don’t want more chemicals in my system than necessary.  And I'll be a good girl and not mess with my med dosage on my own. I will say, this was a good call on the part of my doc.  I don’t feel hypomanic and I definitely don’t feel depressed.  I feel (dare I say it?) normal.  I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not sleeping, but I have to stop before someone blames my hubby for all the bruises I’m causing. 

I don’t know how long it’ll last.  Is this just a high before my system crashes again or is my improved health due to the medications?  This is the hell of brain cooties, isn’t it?  Especially bipolar disorder.  Is it part of the usual cycle or is it the medication doing its job? 

I’m not sure at this point.  I’m just enjoying the ride for the moment.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Once Upon a Time: Chapter1

“For something new to begin, something must end.” Kris King

But what if you’re not ready for that “something” to end?

Once upon a time, I had a full life.  In fact, for years I worked as news director at a little radio station in my hometown of Porterville, CA.  Sounds glamorous doesn’t it?  If only you knew.  I was up at four.  After a couple of weeks I realized doing my hair and make up at that hour was useless.  Only one person saw me that early in the morning and he didn’t care if I showed up with wet hair, no makeup, and in my sweats.  Make up and hair, I figured, could be done between the news broadcasts at the top and bottom of the hour.  As long all my primping was complete by the time anyone else arrived, it was all good, right? 

Well, I’ll never forget my co worker’s face the first time I showed up in the broadcast booth holding a mascara wand.  It was even funnier when I slid into my seat with curlers in my hair.  Funnier still was that he couldn’t say a word about it (or so I thought)…but had to try to maintain a straight “face” on air.   He did “broadcast” it to our little world, though, which set us both off on a fit of giggles and we had to run an ad while we pulled ourselves together. 

I didn’t just do hair and make-up between news broadcasts, though.  I had ten minutes to fill at the top of the hour and five at the bottom from 6:00 until 8:30am so there was lots of work to try to keep the broadcasts fresh.  At 8:30am I helped host a radio talk show. Thank goodness I didn’t have to do it on my own.  Some interviewees were wonderful and we could have spent much more time with them.  But for others…welllll…that’s where having a co-host came in handy.  My time between 9:00 and noon was spent tracking down news stories, mostly human interest as there just wasn’t much hard news to cover.

There were a few coworkers who especially made the job rewarding. Mike, Chad, Ken…yes, all guys, but I was “one of the guys”.  My only real regret was not being there when Ken mooned Mike in the studio during a live cross town rivalry basketball game.  HA!  I missed it! 

Glamorous?  Hardly.  And if I ever began to feel it was, well, all I had to do was go home and clean a toilet or two to remember what was truly important: First and foremost I was a wife and mom.   

My hubby and I moved to a little town called Mariposa, Ca. and I quickly landed a job as marketing director at a little bitty, teeny tiny hospital called John C. Fremont District Hospital.  Small, but important as it was right outside Yosemite National Park.  A helipad ensured prompt delivery of injured and ill locals and visitors to larger hospitals down on the floor of the central valley if treatment required more specialized care than was offered there.    

I loved that job!  I was happier than I’d ever been in my life.  I loved the job, the community, where I lived in the foothills amongst the pines, being near Yosemite, long car drives with my hubby on days off, the fact that my job was part time and allowed me plenty of time at home, and I adored my church congregation.  The only negative was that we moved away from our adult sons, but they weren’t so far away that we rarely got to see them. In fact, the first couple of months I was visiting them every weekend and cooking up meals to see them through the week.  Sound crazy?  Yeah, but I love my boys.  And to me, they’re still boys even though they’re young men now.  Being wife to my hubby and mom to those boys was extremely important to me.

I went back to school and this time it looked like I was in the home stretch.  One son moved in with us for a bit and we took macro and micro economics together.  You know what was special about that?  First, he wanted to take the classes with me.  But most special was that he didn’t need the classes…he just took them to be with me.  I was later accepted into an online degree program through Chico State University in my area of interest: Social Studies.  Life was very, very good!

But life has a funny way of throwing curve balls at you.  In the spring of 2004 hubby and I found ourselves guardians of two nephews who’d been through hell.  It was our job to bring them out of it.  Years of abuse at their parents’ hands were followed by two years in the foster care program with foster parents who were in it for the money.  And there is a lot of money to be made by fostering children in California.  Try about $600.00 per month per child.  Foster a few kids, hold down a full time job, and life could be pretty cushy…for the foster parents.

Now, prior to all of this…in fact, four months earlier…the hubster and I felt prompted to look for property outside of Cali.  Why?  A coworker of mine brought in some pamphlets of property she was looking at in Oklahoma.  I couldn’t believe the prices!  Small homes in the cheapest part of California were going for $90K and up.  Postage stamp size houses on postage stamp size lots crammed up against other homes. But in the Midwest, wow!  I mean, she was looking at homes in the $150,000 range that were gorgeous and had corrals for her horses, outbuildings…

So, prior to becoming those-whose-job-it-is-to-show-the-two-boys-the-way-out-of-hell, hubby and I flew east just after New Year’s Day and plunked down some money on the house in which we currently live.  Yep.  Just like that.  We shook our heads at this ourselves, not understanding what we were doing or why.  We’d sold a home a year and a half earlier but were priced out of the market in Cali for anything we’d want…which just happened to be a decent sized home with some acreage.  Found it in Missouri, plopped down the down payment, and prepared to move in two years’ time.  Yeah.  You read it right.  Two years.  “Why two years?” you ask.  Good question.  You see, I needed just two more years to complete that degree.  So we settled in to wait.  Meanwhile, life was good.

Now, about that curve ball.  Actually two blonde haired, blue eyed curve balls.  They were a bit of a handful, especially the oldest, who was 12 at the time.  He’d seen the worst of the abuse.  There had been no discipline in their lives and we didn’t know it at the time, but it was going to take a LOT of work to help him overcome his past.  The youngest was only 6 and so was easier to work with.  He’d been sheltered by his brother and an older sister.  Sadly, we weren’t able to take her.  At fourteen she was running away frequently, drinking, smoking, and essentially doing as she pleased.  We were aware she was savvy enough to know that if she didn’t like the rules and discipline we expected, all she’d have to do was say my hubby had touched her inappropriately and our lives would be ruined.  It was heartbreaking.  We knew her background and had wanted to take her when she was young, but CPS told us that until there was evidence of abuse they couldn’t investigate.  And so we couldn’t take her.  And it hurt.

Suddenly, that property sitting out in Missouri looked attractive.  I’ll be honest.  I wasn’t ready to move. 

And this is where “For something new to begin, something must end" occurs.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Voice

I wish this post had something to do with the television show “The Voice”.  It would mean I can actually sing!  I mean, everyone can sing, but my attempts sound more like a frog with a sore throat: It just kind of croaks in a scratchy kind of way. 

No, this is about the voice in my head.  NO!!  I’m not “hearing” voices so send back the guys with the unfashionable jackets, okay?  No, this is the voice that we all have.  The one that says, “Don’t forget to pick up some milk” and “Gotta remember to take the dog to the groomer”.  THAT voice. 

For the non-mentally interesting, those are the types of conversations that are held within the head.  The mind thinks it, a mental note is made, and if all goes as planned the brain regurgitates the info at the appropriate time and the dog gets groomed and no one does without milk on his/her Frosted Flakes.  Voila! Fait accompli!  (That’s fancy for: got ‘er done.)

But, for we mentally interesting, the convo is quite different.  During hypomanic (and manic) states, the brain’s convo is so pleasing!  “You can do anything!”  “Yes, start that new business, go back to school, and adopt 10 children from underprivileged countries!”  Yep, this is how the mind thinks: Anything is possible during these phases.  Projects are begun, the family gets fed, and there is plenty of milk for the Frosted Flakes.  Hooray!

Mania and hypomania are not fully wonderful.  There are plenty of downsides, but the voice in the head is a friend.  It loves you and everyone around you.  The to-do list is generally remembered without transferring it to paper and every item on it gets checked off.  Done and done!

With bipolar disorder, though, what goes up must come down.  And when the depression hits…even when it’s not a deep depression… the voice’s words, inflections, and hidden meanings take a completely different turn.  “How can I pick up the milk and take the dog to the groomer’s when I can barely get out of bed?”  That’s one thought, but the Voice follows closely behind (using a capital V for this voice) calling you a lazy slob, useless, and more.  Once out of bed, it can be difficult just to take a shower.  Energy and strength are nonexistent, making any effort seemingly Herculean in nature.  Sometimes, just breathing is an effort.

So here comes the Voice again.  “You’re hopeless” “You can’t do anything right” “You ruin everyone’s life” “The situation is just hopeless” “Why would anyone want to be around you?” “You can’t even take care of yourself, let alone your family.  They’d be better off without you.” The last comment inevitably leads to: “Everyone would be better off if I wasn’t around.  They’d all be happier if I just went away.”  Translate “went away” to “commit suicide”. 

That’s not rational, you say?  Tell me about it!  But the depressed brain is definitely not rational.  It lies. And yes, I’ve heard comment from the Voice, too.  My hubby has made me promise to let him know if and when I start hearing It.  Sadly, he doesn’t like to leave me alone if he feels I’m upset about something or feeling more depressed than I had been.  I say “sadly” because I hate knowing my illness affects him like that.  He deserves so much more. (Did you notice what I did there?  That’s the Voice.)

It’s bad enough that the Voice drags us over a truly rocky road…ice cream not included…but then it plays wonderful little tricks on us.  You see, most of us mentally interesting folks whose brain cooties include depression really don’t feel like being around anyone while depressed.  When we manage to drag ourselves out to run errands we make every effort to prevent human interaction.  (Remember, just breathing is a challenge.  Need to use that all important oxygen just to survive.)  At home, we ignore the phone, don’t return texts or emails…the thought of any kind of exchange is exhausting.  Keep in mind, we don’t even know what we offer.  Trying to chit chat as if we’re well and happy and offer something meaningful to mankind is just more than we can do.  And when we do we deserve an Oscar for best performance award.  Ordering pizza ‘cause you can’t cook dinner?  Internet to the rescue!  Don’t have to talk to anyone that way.

A Catch-22 then comes into play, and it’s really not fair…we suffer enough.  But frequently it’s our own family and closest friends we avoid while depressed.  It makes it worse, feeling we’re ignoring a loved one when in actuality we simply can’t communicate.  Let’s head on out a few days, week, month or so later and the depression lifts!  Fabulous, right?  Life returns to some semblance of “normal”.  Au contraire.  (I’m enjoying using fancy terms today.  Humor me.) 

We beat ourselves up until we’re bleeding while depressed, and the worse of it, for many of us anyway, is knowing we’ve ignored people we care about. Birthdays, holidays, just contact in general.  There’s the worry that we’ve run them off.  And in some cases, we do.

What to do now that the depression has lifted?  Pick up the phone and call as if nothing had happened?  Feel embarrassed and continue with the avoidance?  The Voice says to continue avoiding.  Why set yourself up for rejection?  (Yes, the Voice is still there, though quieter, when we feel better.)

However, while in the good place, the best course of action is to pick up the phone, either say you’ve been sick, you’ve been dealing with exhaustion, or be fully honest. That person may not understand, but you know you’ve done what you need to do, opened up.  Yes, there’s the risk of rejection in just making the blasted call, but how else to explain being in and out of someone’s life.  Keep in mind, those people have feelings, too.  While we know we’ve inflicted pain, explaining the brain cooties’ effects may at least offer a band aid.
Being honest is difficult.  

Yes, I’m open about my illness, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary, especially when it comes to those I love most.  The Voice says “Don’t bother.  You’ve already burned your bridges” but the voice says it’s worth the effort.  Get over the embarrassment and the guilt, and make a phone call.  Or send a text, email, or message on Facebook…not quite as threatening that way, and an easier way to put out feelers, so to speak.

Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go.  Time to make some phone calls.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Tentacles

The darkness threatened to close around me.  I felt the tentacles stretching towards me, reaching, snaking their way through to my body and soul.  I could see them, slowly moving in, becoming stronger, increasingly darker as they approached.  The fogginess in my head deepened, making me feel ever more lethargic, fatigued…any effort to do anything was almost too much.  My spirit began to sink, interest in anything I enjoyed was slowly diminishing.  I wish I could say my feelings towards those I love was unaffected, but that would be a lie.  I knew that love was there, but it was becoming separated from me by the darkness.  That’s the way depression works.  It’s a wall between all that you love and enjoy and yourself.  In the end, when it’s at its worse, nothing exists but the darkness.

Sometimes that’s a relief.  Does that sound strange?  I know some of you understand.  Just to let the darkness have its way…to sink, curl up, sleep, and close out the world.  It hurts less. That twilight, in between state prevents enjoyment, but you’re still very much aware of all you cannot do, don’t want to do.  You don’t care about much, but somehow care that…you don’t care.  You’re supposed to care, and you know that. But the energy, the strength it takes to accomplish even the minutest task simply isn’t there.  And it’s frustrating, aggravating, demoralizing…here it is again.  At least with the full darkness everything is shut out.  That’s not to say full depression is a good thing.  It definitely isn’t.  I’ve spent more than my share of time curled up in a fetal position, blanket over my head, too tired to even cry, and just wanting it to stop.  In that in between, twilight state, though, is the belief that you should be able to carry on as if nothing was wrong.  As if you were walking in the light.  As if all was well in your world when there may only be enough energy present to take a shower, get dressed, and watch TV.  And sometimes there’s only energy to choose one from that list, like choosing dinner in a Chinese restaurant.

The tentacles have been stretching towards me since early October.  I woke up one morning and all my interests were simply no longer interesting.  I felt flat, emotionless, yet not depressed.  Slowly, little by little, I could feel the cold, misty-gray tentacles moving towards me, grasping me lightly, just enough to be aware.  The tentacles were getting stronger, darker, squeezing harder.  I managed to fake my way through Christmas and prepared a separate, second dinner on New Year’s Eve to celebrate with a son and daughter-in-law who had been out of town at Christmas.  I managed to get through, and was aware enough of having met the challenge to even give myself a little pat on the back.  “Good work. Success.”  The fact that I was in bed by 6:30 New Year’s Eve wasn’t important…I had accomplished what I had set out to do.

Then on New Year’s Day, somehow, for some reason I don’t want to even question, the tentacles’ strength lessened, they became a bit thinner, less dark.  I’m not yet back in the light, but I have managed to vacuum and mop my living room, dining room, and entryway, shop, run a couple of other errands, and still feel like writing this blog post.  That’s pretty good and I’ll take it as a sign that perhaps I’m moving towards the light instead of away from it. I feel I’m beginning to care again, and I take that as a good sign, too.  I had hoped I wasn’t experiencing a long, slow, spiraling decline into that dark place from which it is so very difficult to escape. 

I feel blessed to be able to say I appear to be climbing out of that hole.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How Did I Get So Lucky?

Before delving into the more wacky side of bipolar disorder/depression/generalized anxiety disorder (That’s right, forgot to tell you about the latter, didn’t I? Silly me!), let me take a moment to say how grateful I am for this, that, and the other.  Not for the illness.  No, never for that.  But for other things.

Starting with “this”: I’m grateful for you, my readers.  When I started this blog I had no idea how it would be received.  Face it, a lot of people out there still make wide circles around us “mentally interesting” people.  (Wish I could take credit for the “mentally interesting” comment. Credit fully goes to Jerrod Poole at Crazy Meds.) I’ve had it happen to me at a time when I really needed some support. But overall, I’ve been embraced!  I’ve spoken about my battles at Toastmaster meetings. (Funny thing, social situations ramp up the anxiety probs, but public speaking rocks!)  I’ve been very open on Facebook about the wars I fight and have not had one single negative comment.  Not one!  And as far as I can tell, no one has “unfriended” me, thinking I’m some kind of loony-tune on the verge of creating mayhem.  Heh-heh.  And you…you have given me such support.  Okay, I’m getting teary here, and probably more gushy than you’d like.  I’m so incredibly humbled by your comments and your messages to me.  I’ve discovered there’s a bunch of us mentally interesting people as well as people who don’t ordinarily hack at the demons of a challenged neurotransmitting system, but are having temporary problems.  Whether brought on by environmental causes or physiological issues, it doesn’t matter.  Even brief travels into the world of the demons is harrowing.  So thank you.  Again, I’m humbled and honored.

Next is “that”: my doctors.  I live in a community of 17,000 people in a rural county of 40,000 inhabitants in SE MO.  Get the picture? Small community, poor rural area…not a place where one would expect to find stellar health care.  Yet I have!  I’ll start with my medical doc.  When we moved to our little corner of the world we had no idea who to choose for a primary care physician.  Should we just open the phone book, close our eyes, and point a finger?  Seemed the best way…in fact the only way.  Instead, we actually went to the trouble of asking our neighbors who they saw.  Turns out their doctor was a geriatric doc, but their office steered us to the office of a young doctor.  Doc C.M. is a genius.  Seriously.  For my husband’s neuropathy, a pain specialist in a fancy hospital in the big city of St. Louis told us our doc was treating it just exactly as he would and he wouldn’t change a thing.  Doc C.M. is always on the lookout for new treatments, as well.  He’s treated one son’s ADHD beautifully and another’s anxiety perfectly, in addition to the myriad other health issues we call on him to solve.  He’s actually cared enough about me to “yell” at me that I need to accept that I have a medically recognized ailment.  And yelled at me when I discovered the extent of my anemia.  He didn’t know a nurse practitioner who worked with him at the time had seen the test results but only mentioned that my iron was a little low and I might want to consider taking supplements.  I hope you know he doesn’t actually raise his voice, but it’s possible to yell without actually doing so.  We do it to our kids when they act up in public.  Anyway, he’s great.

Now, I’m even more blessed with my pdoc (psychiatrist).  Do you know how difficult it is to find a good pdoc?  Hmmm?  I went through two at a fancy hospital in a big city (recurring theme here).  The first ditched me when he no longer accepted our insurance.  I fired the second when he said there was no possible way I could have a certain side effect from a particular drug.  Bullhockey.  I was quite easily able to find that side effect online in the drug’s information sheet.  Geez!  I was in tears and, quite frankly suicidal, when I went to see a nurse practitioner who shares office space with my MD.  She’s great.  She made a phone call to a friend who’s a psychiatric nurse practitioner and I had an appointment less than a week later.  

My depression is apparently quite difficult to treat and she wasn’t really getting anywhere, so she referred me to my pdoc, whose office is next door to hers  I loved him immediately.  I was so low I could barely respond to his questions, but I appreciated how he didn’t just go over a checklist as my former pdocs did.  He listened.  He paraphrased.  He genuinely wanted to know what I was experiencing.  Then he explained how the various neurotransmitters work with regards to mood.  Wow!  I was getting therapy, a pdoc’s expertise, AND an education all in one meeting.  It was fabulous.  And rather than throwing the baby out with the bathtub as my former docs did, he suggested tweaking the mood stabilizer I was on.  And at later appointments, as I described how and what I was feeling, he explained what he wanted to do and why…which neurotransmitter a particular drug would effect and why he wanted to make an adjustment.  He doesn’t like to prescribe medical cocktails, but has found it necessary to place me on four different medications, all very carefully monitored and adjusted.  He admits my case is difficult to treat, partly because I respond atypically to most antidepressants.  In other words, Prozac should send me on a wild rampage when instead it causes me to become one with the couch.

Each time I’ve seen him, he goes back over what I told him before, reviews notes made by my therapist, then carefully listens to what I have to say.  And when I’m doing well he appears to genuinely be happy!  His eyes actually sparkle.  And he seems to enjoy chatting with me about the medical side of drugs, brain cooties, etc.  He also reassures me that in his practice he sees a wide variety of people, including professionals, so I shouldn’t feel inferior.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  And here he is, a Pakistani native, living and working in a small rural town in Southeast Missouri.  What a blessing.

My therapist is another blessing.  She listens, she talks with me, she explains the how’s and why’s of what I’m experiencing.  She shares little bits and pieces about her own life.  She never rushes me (neither does my pdoc).  She’s genuine, sincere, professional, approachable, funny, and a great listener, even when I ramble, which, sadly, is often.  J  Kind of a bipolar trait.  She explains well the byproducts of my various brain cooties and why some things are difficult for me, like maintaining order in my house.  Like finishing projects (anyone want to decorate a tree for me?).  Like skipping appointments because I’m just not able to leave the house.  Stuff like that.  And she’s non-judgmental.  Better yet, she’s helped me let go of a lot of baggage.  Very simple suggestions and comments that absolutely ring true.  She’s a true blessing in my life.

Medication.  ‘nuff said. 

My family for patiently and lovingly enduring my ups and downs.

Now for “the other”: my husband.  Oh, my goodness.  I seriously don’t know what I’d do without him.  Two hospitalizations (I know, I’ve only blogged about one.  Part deux will be forthcoming.  Don’t touch that dial!), depression so dark that I couldn’t get out of bed, depression not quite that dark but deep enough that I can barely function, half-finished projects, an inability to keep up with laundry and housekeeping, hypomanic spending (Be honest…you know what I mean.), and more.  He endures patiently, lovingly, and with worry.  When my downs appear to be darker or lasting longer than usual, he begs me to call the doctor. He has no problem with eating grilled cheese sandwiches or frozen pizza (cooked, of course) for dinner.  He’s asked me over and over to not apologize, to the point I had to make a pact.  I’m sick, he says, and he knows what illness does to a person’s ability to carry out responsibilities.  He also understands when I spend “good” feeling days doing something I enjoy rather than something necessary.  Well, except for laundry.  He kind of likes having clean underwear and shirts.  But he gets it.  And when he doesn’t, he tries to understand.  And sometimes I need a reality check which he gives with love and concern.  I could go on and on.

And as awful as it has been, can be, and may be again, maybe I should be grateful for my illness.  It’s taught me to be patient with myself.  Actually, no, that’s a lie.  I’m still not patient with myself.  But I am more patient with others.  I feel I’m more compassionate and I’m learning to accept my God-given gifts for what they are. 

I am, indeed, one lucky woman.